If you’re a regular Posse reader, you know that we’ve been high on 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio since it opened a couple years ago. So, naturally, we’d take a close look at the place as we put together the Texas BBQ Posse’s Favorite 41, our list of our favorite joints in the state.
And now, after our most recent visit, we have no doubt. We’re declaring 2M Smokehouse No. 1.
Pitmaster Esaul Ramos and his partner Joe Melig are using a combination of old-school techniques and new school — yes, craft barbecue — approaches to turn out the best smoked meat around. The side dishes are terrific, too.
“It’s a flavor explosion,” Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said as we sampled brisket, sausage, pork ribs, turkey, pulled pork and a giant beef rib.
“I’m as convinced as ever this is the right call to make. 2M is number one. . .Everything these guys do is their own thing. It’s creative.”
Wilkins, who along with Posse member Jim Rossman have eaten more barbecue than any other people I know — and that’s a compliment — calls this new style of barbecue Texican. That’s a combination of Texas technique with some new flavors from south of the border, as exemplified by Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ in Austin, Flores Barbecue in Whitney and Zavala’s Barbecue in Grand Prairie.
From his perspective, Ramos extends the line of smoked meat evolution to Tom Micklethwait, who began serving from his Micklethwait Craft Meats trailer in Austin in late 2012.
“I feel that Tom started the barbecue that we have now,” Ramos said.
Along with salt and pepper, catering to Texas-style purists, Ramos uses some ground comino — cumin — in his brisket rub. The pork sausage is made with serrano pepper, Oaxaca cheese and cilantro.
And check out Tom Fox’s luscious photo here of the glaze that 2M Smokehouse uses on its pork ribs. Some hot spices mixed with molasses, honey and maple syrup, and squeezed from a plastic bottle on each rib. Certainly not Texas old school. But, certainly, very tasty.
Personally, I rate the rib I ate at 2M on my last visit there with the rib I had at Smokey D’s in Des Moines last summer as the best pork ribs I’ve ever eaten. That encompasses more than half a century of serious barbecue eating. Smokey D’s is run by Darren Warth, a competition champion who knows how to build flavor for that perfect bite.
On the Texas BBQ Posse’s Favorite 41 list, there are some old friends, as you can see, and some new. And, truth be told, even in our close Posse group we aren’t all in agreement. Chris and I asked other Posse members to rank their top five joints in the state and we’ve included those lists in this package. There are differences, you’ll notice.
Even though 2M has been open less than two years, the joint’s story has been pretty well told, beginning with the chalkboard sign about Ramos and Melig on display in the place:
“In time these 2 best friends became brothers, partners and finally with God’s blessing became 2M Smokehouse and Catering.”
That’s quite a partnership and speaks directly to the dedication of the 2M operation.
“If you don’t really love it,” Ramos said of barbecue, “if you’re not passionate about it, then just keep it like that and keep cooking on weekends in your backyard.”
Ramos, 33, who drove a city bus in San Antonio for several years and worked construction for a time, has a good barbecue pedigree. He cooked with John Lewis at la Barbecue in Austin. Lewis helped launch Franklin Barbecue back in its trailer days and became a competition champ. He now runs one of the best joints on the country — Lewis Barbecue — in South Carolina.
Ramos also has a trait highly valued by old newspaper dinosaurs like us. Curiosity.
In August of 2013, long before launching 2M, he emailed the Posse, saying he was heading to
Dallas from San Antonio in a couple weeks and he wanted to sample the best barbecue in Big D in one day. Could we point him in the right direction?
Yes, we could.
Wilkins told him to hit three joints, in this order: Pecan Lodge, Slow Bone and Lockhart Smokehouse.
“Pecan Lodge often has long lines so you might want to start there,” Wilkins advised. “Have a great trip.”
If that was a fact-finding mission, Ramos did his duty well. Pecan Lodge, which was then operating in the Dallas Farmers Market, really made an impression, including what Ramos called a “different flavor” in the barbecue, probably — at least in part — from the mesquite wood the joint used then. And that’s when, Ramos said, he started thinking he’d someday like to own a place like Pecan Lodge.
Last year, 2M made Texas Monthly’s list of the Top 50 joints in the state. Impressive for a place that, at the time, had been open only a few months. This past summer, Ramos and Leonard Botello IV from Truth BBQ in Brenham both competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped Grill Masters” show. Botello made it to the finals before being eliminated.
2M is a family operation. Over the course of a week, Ramos’ mom (Maria), sister (Giselle), and wife (Grecia) all work there. Melig’s wife, Selah, handles the chalkboard menus and messages.
The barbecue business is challenging, especially with more and more competition emerging regularly. Ramos and Melig remodeled their joint themselves and in the first few months of operation they kept a mattress in the pit room where they slept as they cooked all night and served customers by day, Thursdays through Sundays.
The days of operation are still the same, but the mattress is gone. On our most recent visit, Ramos said 2M was cooking 22 briskets for Thursdays and Fridays, and two dozen for Saturdays and Sundays. A lot, but a fraction of the 100-plus a day turned out by Franklin Barbecue in Austin.
The partners have regained a little more free time — Ramos said he even took a vacation this past summer to Montana — but their ambition remains. After leasing for a while, the partners purchased their location and are thinking about some expansion: another pit, a larger patio area, and dinner service on Friday and Saturday nights.
Plus, Ramos said, he has a lot of ideas for new sausage flavors.
“All these things take time,” he said. “We don’t want to get in over our heads. . .I like progressing at our own speed on our own time.”
2M Smokehouse, 2731 S WW White Rd,, San Antonio, (210) 885-9352. Open Thurs-Sun 11am-4pm or when the meat runs out. Website: www.2msmokehouse.com